A man of passion, joy, and love: Interview with Dennis Kiprop

 *As I prepare for my trip to Kenya, Malawi, and Uganda this summer, I’m reviewing what I learned on the last trip in 2011. I was pleased to find this gem of an interview with one of our Kenyan Small Business Fund Coordinators, Dennis Kiprop. The interview was originally posted on Oct 9, 2012. I’ll be meeting with Dennis and the rest of the SBF Coordinators in July in Uganda!


At the heart of Spirit in Action is a deep respect for people dedicated to changing their own communities. One of these people that puts truly puts God’s Spirit into action is Dennis Kiprop, a SIA Small Business Fund Coordinator in Eldoret, Kenya. I had the pleasure of meeting Dennis face-to-face during my trip to Kenya last summer and I snuck time into our very busy conference schedule to interview him about his work with SIA. Below is a transcript of our interview, edited for length.


Kiprop and Mary with Chipati

Coordinator Dennis Kiprop and Mary Koima at her bakery shop. We had chipati from her store one day for lunch.

Dennis Kiprop [DK]: First I want to say thank you. I’m so thankful to God for this opportunity to talk together, to share, and be praying. SIA shares a lot of love – God’s love – and through sharing love I just feel connected with what SIA does and so I really enjoy it.

Tanya Cothra [TC]: What do you like most about your work with SIA?

DK: I like being with people. I like that every time I write a report I take time saying to God, “thank you for this work; that you have trusted me with your work.” When I write I feel some joy coming out from the computer and it is very nice. I also have been trying new ways of reporting; like the way we can report to better capture the areas that we are impacting people not just outside but also inside. But the challenge is that I don’t have a camera.
[Tanya’s Note: Dennis didn’t know at the time of the interview that I had a digital camera to give him from a SIA donor! We’re received some wonderful photos from Dennis in the last year.]

TC: You’ve been a SIA local coordinator now for 3 years. What long-term benefits do you see in your community?

DK: First let me share the way I do the [SIA Small Business Fund] group training. They will come together as a group – as different people, different tribes. And when they go back to their communities they always share what they have gotten here.

I see lives not just changed but lives improved in terms of how [people] take care of their families. As it is captured in one of the questions in the [3-Month Report form], they feel better about the future and medical care and all that. I have also seen a long-term impact for people getting motivated and feeling better about themselves.

TC: How do you follow-up with the small business groups after the initial training?

DK: When I am following up sometimes [the distance] is far, so over the weekends I take a matatu [bus] to see various groups. I call them and some call me to come and check.
[Tanya’s Note: The next day of the conference we went as a group to visit some of the SIA small business in the area.]

TC: You said you would like to start a savings and loans group in your area. Do people use something like that now?

DK: They do – but mostly women. It is the practice of the women that they choose their own leaders and they make contributions every month, maybe to buy utensils for one person. The next month they do something else for a different person. I have seen that.

TC: Do people use micro-finance institutions?

DK: They do but the standards of lending are a bit high. You have to have cash flow and you must have an account with [the bank]. So I wish they would come together so that they could save in a cooperative – they would be able to lend money at a very affordable interest rate. So that has also been my dream for these groups to come together to share these resources to do something good that can benefit everyone.

Kiprop and Tanya in Kenya, August 2011

Dennis Kiprop encourages people to think positively and see the good in their lives. Pictured here with Tanya.

TC: Any last thoughts to share?

DK: We want to share the stories where we see empowerment [in our area]. We like to see people who are powerful and determined. I really like the message encouraging people to think positively in life whatever the problem you are going through – that God has a lesson for you, so try to understand what the lesson is for you. And through that positive thinking realize people get motivated and soon through time they become a success. In all matters in life, I like to think positively. I like encouraging myself and saying you can do it, you can do it.

**Feel free to share your words of encouragement with Dennis in the comments section below!**

The importance of gathering

This July we will again bring the SIA Small Business Fund Coordinators together for a conference. This will be an opportunity to discuss what about our program is working and what can be improved. Our time together, hosted by the Ugandan Coordinators, will be valuable for team-building and evaluation. Here is some of what came out of the last conference, which was held in 2011 in Kenya:


“My Joy is to see the SIA family grow and work as a team. We finished [the retreat] with a theme A healthy team grows and that’s all I see with SIA every day,” shared an inspired Dennis Kiprop, SIA Small Business Fund Coordinator in Kenya. His enthusiasm for growing, changing, and learning perfectly captures the mood at our Coordinators Conference in Kenya last summer, where we gathered eight of our local micro-grant coordinators from six different countries to discuss our grant-making process.

Spirit in Action local Small Business Fund (SBF) Coordinators are the leaders who guide new grant groups through the steps of starting a business, including initial training sessions and on-going support throughout the yearlong grant process. This conference – funded by our donors! – was an extremely valuable gathering of those who intimately know and understand the context of the work of Spirit in Action in their community.

And they all had so much to share and learn from each other.

Shared Challenges

Coordinators from Malawi, Nigeria, Kenya, & Uganda gathered to discuss SIA programs.

Coordinators from Malawi, Nigeria, Kenya, & Uganda gathered to discuss SIA programs.

One experience that resonated with all the leaders was the difficulty of choosing groups to receive grants. Our SBF guidelines, based on training materials created by Trickle Up, call for the Coordinators to serve the poorest families in the community as determined through a Poverty Assessment tool and poverty indicators specific to their communities.

But targeting the very poorest has challenges too. Canaan Gondwe, SBF Coordinator in Malawi, targeted the poorest of the poor in his community for the first SBF Malawi grants in 2004 and ended up disappointed with the progress made by those groups. “I noticed that there were people who were indeed poor and needed encouragement but weren’t the absolute poorest in the community.” Several other Coordinators nodded their heads in agreement.

Recognizing Opportunities

Tanya listens to the coordinators' experiences

Tanya listens to the coordinators’ experiences.

Since this fruitful discussion last summer, Kiprop, Gondwe, Board Member Boyd Cothran, and I have been working together to create an Opportunity Assessment, which will be used in conjunction with the Poverty Assessment to identify and exploit the unique opportunities held by grantee groups.

Family members with skills that are not being used, access to local resources, and Sharing the Gift grant recipients ready to expand their project are just some of the opportunity indicators we hope to have all Coordinators evaluate when deciding where to award SIA SBF grants.

In addition, we believe that Coordinators can help groups recognize and unlock their unique opportunities; encouraging people to embrace an opportunity mindset. To that end, Gondwe put together these suggestions:

  • Help the group see the skills they already possess
  • Encourage them to use their time and energy productively
  • Train group in decision-making and prioritizing
  • Form groups of several households to encourage social sharing and peer support
  • Share spiritual nourishment to help them see the good God has in store for them
Coordinators play like a team too.

Coordinators play like a team too.

We’re not at the end of this process yet and the Opportunity Assessment is still a work in progress. Coming back to Kiprop’s theme, a healthy team grows, we celebrate that the Coordinators and I are still building on our discussions from last summer. We push each other to grow as leaders and collaborate to continually evaluate and improve our Small Business Fund program.

[Update: We have created and implemented the Opportunity Assessment and at least a few of the coordinators have reported that it has really helped them select groups. I’ll look forward to getting a more complete update from all the coordinators this July!]

Read more on the Small Business Fund program and FAQs about the program.

You can donate to this years SIA Conference in Uganda here.

Traveling in Kenya

Traveling in Kenya
Kids at Samro School and Empowering Lives International play baseball in the mud.

Kids at Samro School and Empowering Lives International play baseball in the mud.

For World Storytelling Day on Thrusday, and as a way of officially announcing my trip to Kenya, Malawi, and Uganda this July, I wrote down a story from my last trip in 2011.

We visited Eldoret in the rainy season of August 2011. The rain falls almost every day and the dirt roads, once they can no longer absorb any more water, become mud pits, with trenches of water flowing on either side and rivers crossing the path. 

With this reality it is best to learn early on that there can be no rush when traveling in Kenya.

Birthday party! Kiprop with his wife and her brother.

Birthday party! Kiprop with his wife and her brother.

One afternoon, Dennis Kiprop, took us to visit his wife and family. Dennis, who is one of SIA’s Small Business Fund coordinators, had just organized and led our 4-day Coordinator’s Conference, which gathered SIA partners from Uganda, DR Congo, Rwanda, and Malawi together in Eldoret. He has an energetic personality and likes to see the world as a glass half-full with blessings abounding around him.

After the party – he hadn’t told us it was his wife and brother-in-law’s birthday that day – Laban, Boyd, and I climbed into the Jeep from Samuel Teimuge’s Ukweli Training Centre, where Dennis works as a host and event manager, to head back to our lodgings. We set off without a care in the world, thinking not about the drive, but the moment we’d be back at the Centre.

Before there was really time to react or think, we found that the left side of the vehicle was sliding off the muddy road into the river that was the road shoulder. Laban tried going forward and back to get back up the embankment. We were able to go forward a bit, but we soon found ourselves in a river running across the road. We would just have to push forward until we reached the other side of the river.

Boyd and the road of water.

Boyd and the road of water.

Skidding forward and back.
No traction.
Water right up to the exhaust pipe.
Mud sludge seeping under the side doors to meet our feet.

To get across would require more than machine power. Boyd got out of the car to push. But there was still not enough for the tires to grip. There was a woman and two teenage boys walking down the road and Laban called out to them. They dropped their bundles and came over. Now all four were pushing, rocking, dragging the jeep. I held up my feet and prayed.

Soon (actually, it wasn’t very soon – it was at least half-hour later), by sheer force they managed to get the jeep to where it could gain traction and drive on. We shouted with joy and called our thanks to the helpers! Boyd was wet up to his waist and drained from the experience.


The jeep getting packed up the next day. It still works!

The jeep getting packed up the next day. It still works!

It is a classic travel story: at the time of the event I only noticed the stress and it was only with time that it became a story to tell. But even right after we were safe I realized how amazing it was to meet people who were willing to drop what they were doing to help us out.

I came to depend on that kindness of strangers when traveling in Kenya and Malawi. There were plenty of hiccups along the way – broken down buses, missed connections, roadblocks – but just as often there were people to help. 

This July, I will return to meet SIA partners in Kenya and Malawi (and Uganda this time). And I’m sure I’ll have many more moments when I’ll be reminded that travel is a practice of going with the flow and expecting angels along the way.

Related Posts:

3 Ways SIA Partners are Celebrating Earth Day Everyday

Earth Day celebrations may last over a weekend but what about the long-term? Here are three examples of Spirit in Action partners promoting techniques that benefit the earth and their communities:

Woman in Malawi shows the bounty from her family's farm

Ester shows the bounty from her family’s farm.

1. Intercropping in Malawi

Have you heard about the Three Sisters? Beans, squash, and corn grown together get the blue ribbon in the intercropping category. Corn stalks grow tall, beans use the stalks as bean poles, and squash leaves provide shade that  stunts weeds and locks in the soil moisture. Also, the nutrients in bean plants keep the soil healthy year after year.

More and more people in Manyamula Village are adopting this beautiful combination that is good for the heavily-used farmland and reduces the amount of fertilizer needed. We visited Saul and Ester’s farm in 2011 where we saw their flourishing intercropping of beans and corn.

Saul and Ester are members of the MAVISALO Savings and Loans cooperative and they share and learn with the other 150 group members about intercropping and other sustainable farming techniques.

beans and corn

Beans planted at the base of the corn use the stalks as support.

SIA partners from 5 countries are enthusiastic to try new bio-intensive agriculture methods.

SIA partners from 5 countries are enthusiastic to try new bio-intensive agriculture methods.

2. Ukweli Training Centre in Kenya

Anyone who has met Samuel Teimuge knows his passion for simple methods and technologies that can help people produce more food and protect the environment. At his Ukweli Training Centre in Eldoret, Kenya, local experts show groups of people from all over eastern Africa a sampling of these beneficial technologies. For example:

  • The kitchen garden plots use double-digging (a method of turning the soil before planting) and composting;
  • A chicken pen extends over a fish pond and chicken droppings fall into the water to provide nutrients to the fish, increasing the size of the fish (more about chicken-fish farming);
  • An agroforestry display shows about starting seedlings, and replanting and caring for trees; trees provide shade, fruit, and fencing, and absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
The poultry house over the fish pond provides plenty of nutrients!

The poultry house over the fish pond provides plenty of nutrients!

Joshua shows off the great crops grown with compost and no other inputs! More food and less expensive to produce.

Joshua shows off the great crops grown with compost and no other inputs! More food and less expensive to produce.

3. Side-by-side Comparisons

With such good results from simple agricultural techniques, why doesn’t everyone take on the methods? Joshua Machinga and his team at Common Ground know that old habits die hard, so they have planted two sets of crops to convince people to change.

The 5-year experiment places crops that use conventional fertilizers next to crops that use rich, organic compost to display tangible benefits of using compost for long-term soil health. The evidence right in front of people is pretty convincing!

*Spirit in Action has a number of resources about composting, double-digging, organizing model farm days, and intercropping available for free. If you would like me to send you any of these materials, please email the SIA office.

Related Articles:

Add The First Grader to your movie list!

It could have been a scene from my own visit to in Kenya in 2011 – the dusty roads, the matatus (taxi vans) with hawkers hanging out of the windows, children singing and dancing with glee – but actually, it was just the setting of the beautiful, uplifting film, The First Grader.

dusty roads in Kenya

Stunning scenery in Meru National Park in Kenya.

The movie, from 2011, is based on the true story of Kimani Maruge, an 84-year old man who hears in 2003 that the Kenyan government is now offering “free primary education for all” and decides to take them up on the offer!

See, Maruge has an important letter from the Office of the President and he wants to learn to read so that he can read it himself. And he overcomes many challenges from the community and haunting memories to keep studying and learning.

Throughout the film we see flashbacks to a traumatic past when Maruge was held in the British Detention Camps along with other members of the Mau Mau movement, who fought against the British in 1952-60. (This is a complicated history! For more about the Mau Mau Uprisings, read the Wikipedia page.)

Seeing Kenya


Hens in Rose’s chicken coup. She bought 6 chickens with her SIA grant and now has over 60!

The movie, filmed in Kenya with local school children acting as Maruge’s classmates, shows so many typical scenes from the country.

You see the use of cell phones (which are very common throughout Kenya, and are now helping people transfer cash electronically; read more HERE), and the ubiquitous chickens, goats, and dogs running around people’s houses. There’s also the mandatory reference to Obama, the Kenyan who moved into the White House.

We also see a wide variety of homes, from huts with inside cooking fires and no electricity, to brick houses with tin roofs and barred windows, to middle-class apartments in Nairobi.

Valuing Teachers

Samro School, Eldoret

A mural on the Samro School, run by Rhoda Teimuge, in Eldoret.

The First Grader shows the teacher Jane being frustrated with lack of desks. But it also shows her being able to achieve teaching with few materials and in a wooden building. Sometimes it’s not the infrastructure that matters most with schools, it’s the teachers. Jane is engaged, passionate, loves the children, and gives generously.

Sometimes, with the enthusiasm for building schools in Kenya, we forget the importance and centrality of teacher training, pay, and good working conditions.

Accessing “Free” Education

For me, the movie was an important reminder of the value placed on education in Kenya and the barriers to even access the “free” primary education. Students must buy uniforms and shoes and bring pencils and other supplies. They may either have to walk long distances or pay for a bus or bike ride to school.

So, it’s understandable that many families who receive Spirit in Action Small Business Fund grants to start a business, use their first profits to send children back to school.

In Kenya, we visited Rose Ayabei, who received a SIA Small Business Fund $150 grant in 2009 to start a poultry business. In 2011 she had over 60 chickens! She told us that she dedicated to keeping the business working so that she can pay for her children to continue attending school. The boys walk 2km on muddy roads to attend school.

Maruge knew the importance of education, and overcame prejudice and ignorance, and his past struggles, to patiently learn to read and share that importance of learning with the other children in the class. Let’s help more families send their children – boys and girls – to school, making a better future for Kenya.


Rose Ayabei’s children

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